Friday, April 6, 2012

(4-6-12) Coyotes-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Thursday night couldn't have worked out any better for the Blues.

And they didn't even take the ice to accomplish anything.

Still in the hunt for the Western Conference's top seed and Presidents' Trophy race, the Blues were vaulted back into position to take both after both the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers lost their respective games.

The Blues (48-21-11), who play host to the Phoenix Coyotes (40-27-13) today at Scottrade Center (6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and Fresh 102.5 FM), control their own destiny as far as the conference is concerned. They can win out tonight and Saturday in Dallas and not have to scoreboard watch when the Canucks host Edmonton Saturday. They can also win out and need a Rangers home loss Saturday to Washington and win the Presidents' Trophy.

"I think our players recognize that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "As coaches you try not to react one way or the other or overreact (but) it's nice.

"Winning the division was one goal and then the conference was the other. We're in complete control of it. I think the players recognize that and I think there's lots at stake for both teams. Phoenix has got lots at stake ... home ice advantage and all the things that matter there. It should be a real good game."

The players had shifted gears earlier in the week. The most important aspect for the Blues is finishing strong and playing well going into the playoffs. But now that there's still more to accomplish, the scope has certainly changed.

"Any accomplishment during the year is cool and something to be proud of," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Winning the Central's obviously a big step for this organization. Whatever we can do here in the next two games could definitely add to that. It's something you look back on when you're done and say, 'Yeah, we did that.' It's definitely something worth noting.

"That should be our focus, is to make sure we're playing well. Obviously we control our future, but the most important aspect is to play well."

Added winger Matt D'Agostini: "We want to be playing our best hockey in the playoffs obviously. ... It's come down to the wire and we wouldn't want to it to be in any other position right now.

"That's definitely something we can be proud of. We know what's at stake and we want it pretty bad, so we'll be fighting hard the next couple games."

Here are the Blues' scenarios of clinching both the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy this weekend:

1. If Blues win tonight...

President's Trophy
* Can clinch with a win over Dallas and any type of a New York Rangers' loss to Washington.
* Can clinch with an overtime/shootout loss against Dallas and a New York Rangers' regulation loss to Washington.

Western Conference
* Can clinch with a win over Dallas.
* Can clinch with an overtime/shootout loss against Dallas and a Vancouver overtime/shootout loss against Edmonton.
* Can clinch with a regulation loss to Dallas and a Vancouver regulation loss to Edmonton.

2. If Blues lose in regulation tonight...

President's Trophy
* The Blues are out of the race.

Western Conference
* Can clinch with any type of win at Dallas and a Vancouver regulation loss against Edmonton.

3. If Blues lost in overtime/shootout tonight...

President's Trophy
* Can clinch with any type of win over Dallas and a New York Rangers' regulation loss to Washington.

Western Conference
* Can clinch with any type of win over Dallas and any type of Vancouver loss to Edmonton.
* Can clinch with a overtime/shootout loss against Dallas and a Vancouver regulation loss to Edmonton

- - -

The Blues are 3-0-0 against the Coyotes this season. They will be shooting for their first season sweep of Phoenix since 2008-09 and would be the only the second time in franchise history sweeping the Coyotes franchise dating back to their days in Winnipeg.

But Hitchcock is guarded against the success.

"We haven't played their 'A' team," said Hitchcock, whose team has outscored the Coyotes 11-3 in three games this season. "Every time we seem to play them, we get the backup goalie or they've got four or five guys out with injuries. There's reasons. That's why I'm curious to see (tonight's game). This is their best group, this is our best group. Let's play.

"At the end of the night, I think we're going to get a good read. Phoenix is one of those veteran teams that doesn't beat themselves. They've got a lot of older veteran guys that know how to play. I think they've managed their team really well this year as far as keeping an energy level about them and now it's right in front of them. They see the significance of home ice advantage and I think we're going to get a real push tonight."

- - -

The Coyotes, who are in the same boat as their counterparts tonight, clinched a postseason berth Thursday night without the benefit of being on the ice.

Phoenix got in when Dallas lost at Nashville, but there's still unfinished business for the Coyotes, who with 93 points trail both Los Angeles and San Jose by one point in the race for the Pacific Division title with a game in hand.

"We certainly have a lot to play for," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We've got a game in hand on LA and San Jose. The division title is still within our grasp, which means home ice in the playoffs. It's certainly something to play for.

"We recognized at training camp that this is going to come down to a point or two. That's what it did, so the consistency and how our group continually prepares and makes sure that every point available, we try to get. You go through a year and there's some points that get away from you, but ultimately the consistency of which our group plays is probably one of our best assets. That being said, there's always times you want more, too. ... Everybody's striving for one of those eight spots. Now we're in the top eight and we want to get into the top three."

Added captain Shane Doan: "We feel like we've got a little bit left to do. We control our own destiny where we finish and we want to make sure we find a way to take care of that."

- - -

It's been the year of the goalie this season in the NHL, and Phoenix's Mike Smith is a story in himself.

Smith, signed to a free agent contract last summer from Tampa Bay, carries a shutout streak of 219:59 into tonight's matchup with the Blues including three shutouts.

Smith, who is 36-18-10 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season, was reunited with Tippett, who coach Smith in Dallas and has thrived in the desert.

"I had great hopes for him," Tippett said of Smith. "He's a player I had before in Dallas as a young player. He's a great athlete with a great attitude and I think we were just looking for an opportunity. He's taken the opportunity here and ran with it. You've seen what he's done the last three games for us. It's been phenomenal."

When the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, many were scratching their heads giving the reigns to Smith, but the 161st pick in the 2001 NHL Draft has seized the opportunity with Phoenix.

"You talk with the guys in Tampa in (Marty) St. Louis and (Steven) Stamkos, I'm friends with a couple of those guys (including Eric) Brewer, they were saying how great he is and how unbelievable of a team guy he is, a team player, a competitor, a legit No. 1," Doan said of Smith. "Obviously it's been a lot of fun to see him do what he's done."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Jamie Langenbrunner-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart

Ryan Reaves-Vladimir Sobotka-Matt D'Agostini

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott gets the start in goal tonight; Jaroslav Halak, who will start the season finale Saturday in Dallas, is the backup tonight.

The Blues' scratch include forwards Scott Nichol, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.

- - -

The Coyotes' probable lineup:

Ray Whitney-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata

Mikkel Boedker-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan

Raffi Torres-Daymond Langkow-Gilbert Brule

Taylor Pyatt-Boyd Gordon-Lauri Korpikoski

Keith Yandle-Derek Morris

Michael Stone-Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Rostislav Klesla-Michal Roszival

Mike Smith gets the start in goal; Jason LaBarbera is the backup.

Smith carries a streak of 155 consecutive saves, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau. He also has a shutout streak of 219:59, which is a personal best.

The Coyotes' scratches include D David Schlemko, LW Paul Bissonnette, D Chris Summers, C Kyle Chipchura, D Adrian Aucion and RW Scott Arnold.

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